South Bend hero officer speaks out after saving five-year-old child with autism from St. Joseph River
Michiana is calling him a hero. Officer Reid Spitaels of the South Bend Police Department risked his own life Friday night by jumping into the St. Joseph River at Howard Park, saving a five-year-old boy with autism who was drowning.
"It felt like I was in the water for hours," Spitaels said. "But I mean it wasn't that long."
Spitaels regularly patrols the city's northeast neighborhood. He said he was driving near Ironwood Rd. and Corby Blvd. when the initial police call went out for a missing juvenile near LaSalle Ave. And Eddy St. He said the entire dynamic of the situation changed when the call was updated that the boy was in the water.
"I just drove down in the park because I knew it was the closest thing to the water," he said. "Once I got close enough down here there was people flagging me down you know I saw the child that was pretty far out there struggling to stay on top of the water."
He was worried because of the dam isn't too far away.
"I didn't really have time to take anything off or get anything out of the trunk, it was one of those things that needed to happen now so I just left everything on and jumped in," Spitaels said. "His head would stay above the water for just a split second and then a lot of times all I saw was just the top of his head and his hands above the water."
The Department of Natural Resources said Spitaels' actions were heroic.
"Showing the risk that you take your own life to save another exemplifies what it is to be a law enforcement officer," said Jonathon Boyd, an Indiana Conservation Officer. "If this officer would have been just a moment later it would have been too late."
According to the DNR, the Fourth of July weekend is the peak season for drowning cases.
While the DNR normally has jurisdiction over all bodies of water and regularly patrols the river, South Bend Police responded so quickly that the DNR wasn't needed.
"I'm no hero, sorry," Spitaels said, getting choked up.
He said when he was in that water all he could picture was his one and three year old children and how it could have been them in the water.
"I don't consider myself a hero, it's just part of the job, you know? My brothers and sisters in this profession, they do it every day and it goes unnoticed," he said. "I'm just a normal person that goes to work and I'm just doing my job."
Spitaels said the boy went straight to the hospital, but he was released Friday night. He is excited to meet him and his mother as soon as he can.